A thriving trading center for over 100 years until World War Two, Sandakan is on the rise again, this time as an appealing tropical port, with plenty of colonial curiosities and excursion destinations for visitors to enjoy.
From the home of American writer Agnes Keith (author of the wartime memoir Three Came Home) to the 19th-century St Michael's and All Angels Church and Buli Sim Sim water village, Sandakan is full of historical interest.
At Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, visitors can see orangutans that have been saved from poachers or captivity and really get to know our intelligent, charismatic cousins.
Cruises on the Kinabatangan are a delight for nature lovers. Drift through ecologically rich mangrove swamps, see proboscis monkeys, and glimpse elephants as you head downstream.
Sandakan's cuisine revolves around the sea, with simple snacks like prawn crackers and more complex dishes like fish head curry all vying for the attention of diners.
Sandakan's New Market is a bustling commercial hub, where you'll find homemade pearl jewelry and sarongs - all at bargain prices.
The Sandakan Memorial Park is situated approximately 1.5 km southwest of Sandakan Airport. It commemorates the fallen prisoners who succumbed to the Sandakan Death Marches that took place between January and August of 1945. The beautiful series of gardens and beautiful forest orchard are the park's main highlights. View the historic (and rusty) machines that attest to the forced labor program that existed within the camp. There is also a pavilion that gives a list of names along with photographs of the liberators, inmates, and survivors.
The Balin Roof Garden is situated on the 9th and topmost floor of the Nak Hotel, giving visitors a breathtaking view of Sandakan and the sea. The serene ambiance is complemented by professional catering services. Satisfy your hunger pangs with delectable western dishes available at reasonable prices and sip a classy cocktail as you gaze at the heavenly view the sunset has to offer. Make your way up to the roof garden either by taking the stairs or by riding an elevator.
A two-level wood-built villa and former British colonial quarters, the Agnes Keith House has been converted into a museum. Agnes Newton Keith was an American author who lived in Sandakan during the 1930s and wrote several pieces of literature such as the 1939 classic 'Land Below the Wind', which describe her personal experiences. The museum is located up the hill of Tangga Seribu (approximately 100 Steps). This heritage house has been fully restored to its original design and the colonial antiques and furniture within reveals much about the period during which Mrs. Keith lived in the area.
Situated at Sandakan Bay on the hilltop of Tanah Merah, Sabah, in Malaysia, the Puu Jih Shih Temple was completed in 1987. The entire construction process was overseen by the then Sabah Chief Minister, Joseph Pairin Kitingan. It is recognized as the town's biggest temple and is located approximately 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) west of Sabah's town center. Whether you're a Buddhist or not, this is one site you can't afford to miss. The panoramic view from the hilltop will make your heart skip a beat.
Inspired by the architecture of the Agnes Keith House, the English Tea House & Restaurant villa was opened to the public on December 8, 2002. It is encompassed by manicured lawns covering approximately 1.5 acres, complete with outdoor seating and croquet pitch. Visitors are treated to Asian and English cuisine at the restaurants while the tea house serves English tea. Each of these areas blends beautifully with the different species of trees, the most notable being the giant mango. Have your meal as you inhale the fresh air and enjoy the tranquil view of the bay below.
The best time of year to visit is in late summer, probably August and September - before the rains arrive.
Sandakan Airport (SDK) is just northwest of the city. From there, a taxi will cost around RM30, and buses cost RM2.
If you are coming from Penampang or any other city to the southwest, take the AH150 across the country straight to Sandakan.
Bus companies serving Sandakan include Tung Ma Express, Sida Express, and Bunga Raya Express, and link the city with Kota Kinabalu and Semporna.
Elite accommodation options in town include the Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan and the quiet but comfortable Nak Hotel.
Buli Sim Sim - also known to tourists as "Fisherman's Village", Buli Sim Sim is built on stilts in the traditional manner, and features some excellent seafood restaurants.
Lebuh Empat - Sandakan's "Fourth Avenue", Lebuh Empat hosts the excellent Heritage Museum and places to relax like the English Tea House and Restaurant.
Taman Tinosan - just north of Sandakan proper, this area is a nightlife center thanks to bars like Happy Castle and the Tonight Bar.
Buses run to most parts of Sandakan and the surrounding area, and charge from RM2 - RM5.
Short hops in town shouldn't cost more than RM15 - RM20, and taxis to Sepilok will charge around RM40.
Rental options include Borneo Express and Sandakan Car Rental Services. Expect to pay around RM55 per day.
Located on the seafront, Sandakan Central (or "New") Market is the place to shop, with souvenir, clothing, and food stands aplenty.
Supermarkets include Astana Heights Mini Market and Suntos Market, where you can expect to pay around RM5 for 12 eggs and RM25 for a gallon of milk.
Seafood reigns supreme in Sandakan. Good places to check out the local cuisine include the English Tea House (an elegant colonial-style villa), Sim Sim Seafood Restaurant in the stilted village, and My Harbour Restaurant, which commands gorgeous views across the bay. Meals will cost between RM8 and RM20 per head.